There are a few Greek festivals in the Valley and this weekend saw the celebration of A Taste of Greece festival held at Chandler's St. Katherine Church. The three-day event might not be the biggest Greek fest, but delivers on authenticity and spirit.
All of the food at this extremely food-centric event is made by church members, which covers everything from stuffed grape leaves to the sweet, flaky baklava.
At the Indoor Dining Hall festival goers could choose from a variety of hot Greek specialties. A la carte options included pastitso, a layered, baked macaroni dish with tomato-cinnamon meat sauce and béchamel sauce; moussaka, layered eggplant and potatoes with meat and béchamel sauce; or spanakopita, a spinach pie made with onions, cheese and herbs inside a filo dough crust. This is also where you could find the very good stuffed grape leaves, or dolmathes, which were served with lemon sauce.
The highlight of the indoor dining options would be the chicken and lamb dinner plates which included your choice of meat, rice pilaf, green beans, pita bread and salad for either $12 for half a chicken or $14 for lamb. We opted for the lamb shank dinner which meant a hearty portion of tender lamb that was nearly falling off the bone.
Outside were even more eating options as well as a small stage and a handful of vendors.
We skipped the Greek sausage (called Loukaniko) and Greek fries smothered in melted feta cheese, but couldn't resist the Saganaki, commonly called flaming cheese. Pan fried with lots of flair and served with a squeeze of lemon juice and pita, this dish is as much about the show as the taste -- which is very salty. And because you can't have Greek food without gyro, you could also have your choice of chicken or lamb gryo, though these options weren't the best offerings at the fest.
One of the most popular tents had to be the pastry tent, where hand-made sweets of all varieties were available for purchase. Of course there was baklava, the popular dessert of layered buttered filo pastry, spices and walnuts all drizzled with honey syrup. But this was also an opportunity to taste some less-familiar Greek desserts like Kourambiedes. These simple buttered cookies are topped with powdered sugar and are known as the national cookie of Greece. There was also Tsourekia, a traditional sweet Greek bread; Karithopita, a spiced walnut cake with honey lemon syrup; and Ravani, a semolina cake with syrup and orange zest.
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And for a not-so-traditional sweet treat, go for the baklava sundae, which doesn't include any baklava at all we were surprised to discover. Instead this dessert comprises of a heaping mound of vanilla ice cream with baklava-like filling poured on top. The mix of spiced honey and nuts made for a delicious way to beat the lingering heat.
For good eats without the lines you usually associate with festival season, A Taste of Greece Festival takes the cake...er, baklava. Between the small size, easy parking situation (free parking at a nearby school with a free shuttle service) and homemade Greek cuisine this event offers plenty of reasons for a return visit.
For more information about the event visit the A Taste of Greece festival website.